In honor of Baby Safety Month, we’re teaming up with Dr. Molly O’Shea , a board-certified pediatrician at Birmingham Pediatrics & Wellness Center and lifelong swimmer, to share how parents can help their little fish learn how to be safe in and around the water from an early age. Read on to learn why Dr. Molly discusses water safety during wellness visits with patients, and how you can start the conversation with your child’s pediatrician.

Hi, I’m Dr. Molly! Parents ask me for advice about all sorts of things. We discuss feeding, development, language and speech-even what toys and books to have at home.

Parents tend to worry about all sorts of things and ask how they can safeguard their children. They worry about things like choking when starting solid foods, electrical outlets and poison risks in their home. But surprisingly, parents don’t ask about the most common cause of accidental death for young children: drowning.

I suppose it’s because most parents are unaware of the staggering statistics surrounding drowning. I have to admit with all the things I need to talk about with parents at each of their children’s well visits, I don’t always remember to talk about water safety either. Depending on how much else there is to cover for any individual child, even for me, a lifelong swimmer and water lover, water safety sometimes falls by the wayside when I’m talking with families. But it’s very important that every parent hear the message.

Partner with your pediatrician

Like any good partnership, your relationship with your pediatrician is a two-way street. I encourage you to ask questions about ways you can not only baby proof your house from poisoning and injury risks, but also from water safety risks, as well.

Here are some questions to help you start the conversation with your pediatrician:

  • How old does my child need to be before I can leave her alone to bathe?
  • Is it OK to let my child pretend to swim in the bathwater?
  • When my child is learning to potty train and wants to go into the bathroom alone, when should I let him?
  • How old should my child be to take swim lessons?

As I tell parents, “the younger your child gets confident and competent in the water the better!” In fact, the American Academy recommends children take swim lessons as early as age one. Children even younger can benefit from them too, of course, but once babies are a year old the benefits grow, and water safety skills start to get engrained. The risk of drowning is real, and swim lessons can reduce that risk.

Practice your emergency plans

I know you would never think of leaving your child unattended while in the bath. But we’ve all faced a time when one child is in the bath and another child starts crying because they need your attention.

In that moment, our instincts kick in. It’s important that your instinct be to grab the child out of the bathtub, and then go see what’s going on. Unless you’ve really thought through scenarios that could arise, you could easily do the opposite: run out to see what has happened to your other child and come back to find the one in the tub slipped underwater.

You’re not a bad parent. These sorts of scenarios frequently crop up in every parent’s life. It’s important to think about potential scenarios that could unfold and be prepared for them. Understanding the risks, and the importance of water safety, will allow you to act in the moment in the best possible way. Practicing responding to unexpected events will allow you to react with water safety in mind when the situation presents itself.

Whether your pediatrician has the opportunity to discuss water safety with you or not, you need to take water safety seriously. Understand the risks, and the fun, that water provides. By doing everything you can as a parent to prevent situations where drowning can occur and enrolling your children in swim lessons at an early age, you will give your family all the tools they need to be safer in and around water.

Your pediatrician is a great resource. Talk to your doctor about water safety, and about swim lessons. And remember, practicing water safety strategies is Dr. Molly approved!

Thanks to Dr. Molly for sharing this important message! Be sure to talk to your pediatrician, practice water safety at home and consider signing your child up for swim lessons.

Should you have any questions about water safety or swim lessons at Goldfish, we’re always here for you! With more than 100 locations across North America, our instructors use The Science of SwimPlay® to help children 4 months to 12 years old develop a healthy respect for the water, and life-saving skills that give them the confidence to safely swim.

Dr Molly O’Shea is a board-certified pediatrician and owner of Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center in Bloomfield Hills MI and Campground Pediatrics + Wellness Center in Washington Township MI. Dr Molly has been in practice for over 25 years and has served at the state and national levels for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She was the ‘Ask the Pediatrician’ columnist for the Detroit News for many years and was a journal editor as well. Dr Molly is a lifelong swimmer, former triathlete, wife and mother.